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NNP Blog

Feb 17 2021

Thomas Jefferson Coin Collection

Readers are likely familiar with the George Washington numismatic collection, which notably contained an 11-piece silver Comitia America medal set (now at the Massachusetts Historical Society), in addition to the massive gold example of the Washington Before Boston medal, today at the Boston Public Library. Thomas Jefferson also collected coins, and in 1994 Beth Deisher of Coin World investigated the situation. Later, she shared the material with Eric P. Newman, and today this is digitized on Newman Portal. Jefferson made a donation to the American Philosophical Society (APS) of “coins and medals,” c. 1806, apparently gathered from travels in Europe. The APS collection was loaned in the 19th century to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and returned much later, with pieces missing. APS ultimately sold its numismatic holdings in 1967. The historic record keeping and museum cataloging was not sufficient to specifically identify the Jefferson pieces, and today these are lost to the winds. 

While coin collectors would like to think that the Founding Fathers were dedicated numismatists who were intimately involved with the early U.S. Mint, Jefferson, who oversaw the formation of the Mint as the Secretary of State, summed up the situation in an 1825 letter to Mint Director Samuel Moore: “I do not remember a single circumstance respecting the devices on our coins except that someone having proposed to put Genl. Washington’s head on them it was entirely objected to.” In reality, the decisive vote in the House on this question was passed by a narrow margin, 26-22, in favor of a depiction of Liberty on the coinage. Even Jefferson’s single recollection was not quite right.

Link to Beth Deisher research on Jefferson coin collection on Newman Portal: https://nnp.wustl.edu/library/archivedetail/540804

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